Incredibly, it seems that yet another round of layoffs is taking place today at DC Comics. As reported at Deadline, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Killar announced that some layoffs predicted back over the summer would take place today:
A significant round of layoffs forecast last month at WarnerMedia is getting under way today. CEO Jason Kilar emailed staffers this morning, acknowledging the process is “painful” but also calling it a “critical” step in the AT&T division’s evolution. (See his full memo below.)
The entertainment outfit has seen multiple staff reductions since the acquisition of Time Warner closed in 2018. Historically, its three main units — HBO, Warner Bros and Turner — operated as mostly autonomous groups. Now, synergy is the mission, with teams being blended for the first time in decades and a lot of positions eliminated in the process. AT&T is laboring to reduce its $151 billion debt load.
DC Comics was already stripped to the bone back in August when the “DC Bloodbath” winnowed the executive and editorial ranks. Editor in Chief Bob Harras, execs Hank Kanalz, Jonah Weiland and Bobbie Chase and editors Brian Cunningham, Mark Doyle and Andy Khouri were among those let go on that day.
Ironically, those who were laid off in August will be having their socially distanced final day this Friday on November 14th, as California labor laws require a 90 day window.
As for this round of layoffs, you’d think there would be no one left to cut but I am told a few are being made. So far the names are only rumored, but those I’ve heard appear to be mostly among the higher executives.
Certainly the fate of former co-editor in chief Michelle Wells has to be in question. Yesterday it was announced that Marie Javins was taking over as full on EIC, leaving Wells twisting in the wind a bit – these kinds of executive gladiator pit battles are a long running tradition at Warners, unfortunately. Three men enter, two men leave.
Wells, whose former title was Vice President and Executive Editor, DC Children’s/Young Adult, has the immensely successful DC young readers line as a notch in her belt, so whatever happens, she’s well positioned.
As for the bigger picture, the cuts at WarnerMedia come after the launch of HBO Max was either a complete disaster or handled poorly, depending on who you read. Launching a successful streaming service when quarantined shut-ins are desperate for novelty seems low hanging fruit, but not for AT&T. Film releases are still in limbo, although the summer release of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet also landed on the middling-to-disaster scale. The Snyder Cut of Justice League – seen as a pick me up for the channel – is actually going to cost more than $70 million, a huge sum of money – and that’s if charges of racism on the set under Joss Whedon don’t drag it into cancel territory.
AND, WM is looking to offload Crunchyroll, its successful but hard-to-figure-out anime streaming service, most likely to Sony. Not only does $1 billion for Crunchyroll help pare down that AT&T debt, it helps Warners’ business stay more focused and branded.
Anyway, it’s a big mess there and everywhere in Hollywood really, as pandemic shutdowns are affecting theater chains and even Disneyland. Will people still want superheroes after all this? Traditionally comics do well in economic downturns, and the need for escapism soars in hard times. I don’t see either of those as being untrue in the near future, but you may have a hard time seeing that in the pared down offices at DC Comics.
UPDATE: Here’s the memo Killar sent out to WarnerMedia employees today:
This is a very painful email to write. And for a number of you reading this, I realize it will be even more painful to receive. For this, I am sorry.
In August, I first shared news about how we were going to meaningfully change the organizational structure of WarnerMedia (which entailed, among other items, simplifying how we organize our entertainment studios, elevating HBO Max, and consolidating our commercial activities into one organization). Many of you have patiently waited to hear how the reorganization would affect you personally, which is both uncomfortable and stressful. Reducing this period of uncertainty was one of the many reasons we pushed so hard to get through this work as quickly and as thoughtfully as possible, although it probably didn’t feel fast enough. I want to thank you all for continuing to contribute your best, despite this challenging period and the additional pressure of everything else that has been going on in the world.
I’ve previously shared how critical it is for us to evolve how we operate in the context of best serving customers. As I mentioned a few months ago, this entails simplifying how we are organized, partnering with the very best storytellers, and leaning into world class product and technology as we share our stories directly with audiences across the globe. Our journey entails continuing to excel in our large, core businesses while at the same time investing in emerging businesses where we have the opportunity to meaningfully delight customers.
Today, we have arrived at a number of difficult decisions that are resulting in a smaller WarnerMedia team. This is a function of removing layers and the impact of consolidating previously separate organizations. Starting today in North America, we will be sharing which jobs are being eliminated and which roles have changed. We are continuing to review proposed changes in other countries across our non-US businesses, the timing of which will vary according to local regulatory requirements. Nothing about this is easy. But please know, these reductions are not in any way a reflection of the quality of the team members impacted, nor their work. It is simply a function of the changes I believe we must make in order to best serve customers. For those impacted, we will be offering severance and healthcare packages, in addition to professional services and team member assistance programs.
While I anticipate that organizationally, things will settle down materially in the weeks and months to come (we’ve worked hard to make this a process with a beginning, middle and an end), I don’t want to suggest that our future is static. Rather, our future is about inventing ever better ways to move the world through story … which entails embracing change. I have every confidence in this world class team to do just that.
To our colleagues who are leaving, I wish there were words to lessen today’s pain. Your contributions are a permanent part of this great company and today’s news does not change that. I am extremely thankful for all that you have done for this team and this mission. I hope that at some point you will look back on all of it with immense pride.
Until then, please stay well and safe.
“Traditionally comics do well in economic downturns, and the need for escapism soars in hard times.”
OTOH, comics sold very well in the economic boom years of the ’60s, then sales dropped in the downtown of the ’70s.
People may need escapism in hard times, but they also need to save money if they’re unemployed (or fear that unemployment is just around the corner). Spending $4 or more for a thin pamphlet is not appealing under these circumstances.
“The comic book industry has never been stronger”
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